“Rise and shine, ladies.” Sirius woke up and snapped to attention but he didn’t open his eyes. He could hear James’ steady breathing next to him. It’s too steady. So James was awake too. Two other people were breathing nearby; one lighter and slightly faster – a woman – and one louder – a man. They had familiar scents but not so familiar that he could name them. “Failure to respond to a dangerous situation... Minus two-hundred points, I think.”
“Fuck off, Hemsley,” Sirius muttered, recognising the voice. He blinked, trying to appear disoriented, while quickly trying to sort through priorities. James and I are safe at the moment. They’ll toy with us for a bit, so for now, we’re fine. The supplies are where we left them last night; Disillusioned at the base of that big tree. If we can keep those, and not lose them to these two, we’ll be better off... Getting away is a priority too. I’m not sure where we’ll go though... maybe over the fence... Sirius eyed the fence and then looked away before he could be caught staring at it. We should be able to manage that.
“Language, Black,” the woman, a tall blond named who Sirius knew as McDuff, said coolly. “You’re at our mercy... I’d be being as nice as possible if I were you.”
“If you were me, McDuff, Hemsley’d be dating a bloke.” Neither seemed to appreciate Sirius’ early morning humour – and it was early, since the sun had barely risen – and they shared a look of long-suffering. Sirius used the time to find his wand, which was tucked in an inside pocket of his sleeping bag.
“Potter’s useless,” Hemsley said eventually, prodding James’ still form with his foot.
“He’s a heavy sleeper,” Sirius said and was rewarded by the slightest twitch of James’ lips.
“If this was real, he’d be dead,” McDuff said curtly, brushing her fringe out of her eyes. “He’s probably just lost a thousand points for being such an easy target.”
“Easy target?” Sirius scoffed. “He’s practically cocooned in protective charms. You’re lucky your foot’s still attached, Hemsley.” Not very bright, are you? As the two of them moved closer to James for a better look at his non-existent wards, Sirius cast a non-verbal Shrinking Spell at the rucksacks and Summoned them. He stuffed them into the pocket of his jeans.
“There aren’t any wards, there,” McDuff said a moment later.
“I’m a little disappointed,” Hemsley said. “I thought you two would be good. Everyone else seems to think so but here you are, half-asleep and unarmed and with no supplies but your sleeping bags.”
“Ah, well,” Sirius said, feeling proud for keeping a straight face.
“What does Moody see in you?” Hemley pressed.
“He’s an old friend. Worked with James’ dad.”
“Told you it’d be something like that,” McDuff said dismissively. “Seems you aren’t good for anything but winning points,” she said with a condescending look. Behind them, Sirius could see James silently detaching himself from his sleeping bag, with his wand raised. She raised her wand at Sirius, slowly and deliberately, as if trying to make him guess what spell she was about to use.
“Expelliarmus,” James said. McDuff jumped as her wand flew out of her hand. Hemsley turned around, startled, but couldn’t raise his wand in time to deflect the ropes that were winding around McDuff, or the Disarmer that Sirius had sent his way. “Minus two-thousand points,” James said firmly, once they were both bound, “for treating this like a game. If we were Death Eaters, there’s no way you’d hesitate to tie us up or knock us out. Instead, you talked for five minutes and gave us time to think up an escape plan. If we were Death Eaters, you’d be dead.”
Hemsley glared at them but McDuff was still fighting against her ropes. Sirius retrieved both of their wands and lay them on the ground, a few yards away from where they were. “If you were Death Eaters, there’s no way we’d do this,” he said. “You’d already be half-way to Azkaban right now.”
“But you’re not Death Eaters and, while we don’t particularly like you, we don’t want you to fail your exam. Those ropes will loosen in an hour,” James told them, accepting his rolled-up sleeping bag from Sirius with a nod of thanks. He tapped it with his wand, shrinking it, and stuffed it into the back pocket of his jeans.
“Best of luck,” Sirius said brightly. McDuff told him, very descriptively, exactly what she thought of his luck and where he should put it.
James shook his head and made a tsking noise. “Language, McDuff. Let’s go, Pads.” McDuff’s screams of outrage followed them, as did Hemsley’s cries of ‘Cowards!’. James jaw tightened but like Sirius, realised that they were trying to provoke them. After another few yards, James seemed to decide he’d had enough of being insulted. “I wouldn’t be so loud if I were you,” he called over his shoulder. “You’ll draw attention to yourselves and you’ve got no way to fight back for the next hour.”
“Well that shut them up,” Sirius said, pleased, as they reached the huge, white fence.
“Did you get the rucksacks while I was ‘asleep’?”
“Yep,” Sirius said proudly, patting his pocket. They both looked up at the fence. “Are we going over?”
James shrugged. “I suppose so. If we don’t like whatever’s over there, we can always come back.”
“Well said, Mr Prongs.”
James bowed. “Thank you, Mr Padfoot. Ladies first.”
“I thought so,” James said, grinning. “Do you want me to levitate you over?”
Sirius eyed the structure thoughtfully. “I might do it the muggle way.”
James bit his lip. “One thing first.”
“I want my rucksack back before you land on your arse and flatten it.”
Sirius scowled. “Here,” he said, tapping the rucksack with his wand. It became visible again and grew back to its normal size. James accepted it with a nod of thanks. Sirius repeated the process with his own because, while he’d never admit it, James was probably right about him landing on his arse. “Are you jumping too?”
James stared at him oddly, shook his head and tapped the wall with his wand. Gleaming silver rungs sprouted like bizarre plants. “Aut Viam Inveniam Aut Faciam,” he said grinning as he scrambled up to sit on top of the wall. Sirius laughed; it was the Potter family motto and loosely translated, it meant ‘I’ll either find a way or make one’. James peered around, and his eyes widened.“Get up here, Padfoot,” James said urgently. Ah well, here goes... Sirius ran at the wall and jumped. He hit it rather harder than he’d expected but his fingers did curl around the top of the wall. Now can I pull myself up?
“You right there, Paddy?” James asked, laughing.
“Mmph,” Sirius said, unable to do much more than hang there. His fingers slipped on the smooth brick and then he was falling backward. He braced for impact, but when it came it was softer than it should have been. A Cushioning Charm...? Sirius looked up at James who was in danger of falling off himself if he laughed any harder.
“How’s your ego?” James managed to ask.
“Bruised, but there’s a good chance of a full recovery,” Sirius called back. He gathered himself off the ground, brushed off his jeans and climbed up the rungs James had conjured. “What happened to doing it the muggle way?”
“I didn’t cast the rungs I climbed them,” Sirius said smugly. “No magic whatsoever.”
“And the ego’s back,” James said, grinning. Sirius grinned too and Vanished the rungs. He turned to the other side of the arena. Stretching out on the other side of the fence was grey, rocky terrain, flat except for a few scattered rock formations and a cluster of orange and white buildings. On the far side, Sirius could see what looked like a river that connected to the lake they’d taken their water from last night. The fence was not continuous as Sirius had first thought; it lowered as it got closer to the outside of the arena until it disappeared altogether.
“Where are we going now?” he asked.
“Down,” James said. “We’re targets up here.”
Sirius couldn’t argue with that. The two dropped down on the other side of the fence. For what seemed like the thousandth time, Sirius found himself wishing he could transform and make use of Padfoot’s enhanced senses and agility. And I’d be better camouflaged, he thought ruefully. A blue jumper probably wasn’t the smartest thing to wear.
James seemed to be wishing he could use Prongs too; he was certainly walking like his animal-self; tentative, almost silent steps, head held high, eyes bright and wary. “Shall we head for the buildings?” James asked.
“Most of the trainees will be there,” Sirius commented with a grin. “Are we chasing points now, Mr Prongs?”
James grinned back. “Perhaps, Mr Padfoot.”
“After you then.”
The pair made their way across the sparse, open landscape by running from boulder to boulder. It would be all too easy for any of the other trainees to see them coming and organise an ambush. They stopped once at a little cave-like structure and when they set off again, their water bottles were lighter and James had two less apples. It took them another ten minutes at their careful, evasive pace but eventually they reached the buildings, none of which were orange as Sirius had first thought, but white; some appeared orange because they were reflecting the light of a fire which had been started in the centre of the cluster of buildings.
“Can you see anything?” Sirius whispered, peering around the corner of a building.
James shook his head. “Just the fire.”
“How thick can they be?” Sirius muttered. “A bloody fire’s going to draw attention to the place.”
“It could be a diversion,” James said, casting a quick glance around.
“Hadn’t thought of that,” Sirius said, feeling paranoia creeping up on him. He shook himself. “What do we do?”
James twirled his wand between his fingers. “Assume it’s a diversion. That way we’re prepared for anything.”
Sirius nodded. “Shall we go up or around?”
“Up,” James said after a moment. “They won’t be expecting that.” He grinned suddenly. “Are you climbing this too?”
Sirius was so busy scowling at James he didn’t notice his feet leaving the ground. “Wingardium Leviosa,” he muttered once he had stable footing on the roof. James shot off the ground, though he wasn’t as scared by the quick movement as Sirius had hoped. Damn Seekers, he thought as James landed with a grin. That reminds me; we’ll have to go flying again soon. We haven’t been in ages.
“Again!” James whispered.
“Prat,” Sirius said, rolling his eyes. We’ll play with James’ Snitch, first one to catch it wins... it’ll probably be him, though if I teamed up with Moony the two of us would probably be able to get it... He and James flattened themselves against the roof tiles and crawled forward. “Hey, Prongs?”
“Do you still have that old Snitch?”
James grinned and patted his pocket. “Yeah, why?”
“Just wonderin- Bloody buggering hell,” Sirius said emphatically as James let out a quiet whistle next to him. The fire was bigger than he’d first thought, and around it, dozing on conjured mattresses were – Sirius did a quick headcount – fifteen trainees. Two of them were awake, chatting quietly.
“Some alliance,” James murmured. “That’s half of them right there!” He was right; there were thirty trainees in the arena altogether.
“We were wrong.”
“The fire isn’t a diversion and they’re not thick. They’re confident.”
“Wonder why,” James muttered sarcastically.
Sirius laughed before he could smother it. James shushed him. “Sorry. I wonder why they’re here and not in the castle.”
“Dunno. They’ve got a good location here though. I’d bet all of these houses have supplies in them and it’s flat all the way around so they’d see anyone who was coming.”
“They didn’t see us.”
“I think we got lucky,” James said, nodding over to the two who were awake. “Blackburn isn’t exactly observant and Read looks like he’s just woken up.”
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“They’re probably supposed to be on lookout duty,” James said.
“While everyone else sleeps in,” Sirius said, checking his watch. “It’s ten-thirty for Godric’s sake!”
“Shh!” James said. They both ducked as Read glanced over.
James waved off the apology. “Don’t worry about it. What did you say the time was?”
“Well past the time they should have been up by,” James said.
“I think they need our help,” Sirius said seriously.
James’ mischievous grin was back. “What do you have in mind?”
“Er... Not much actually,” he admitted sheepishly. “Where’s Moony when we need him?”
James laughed. “Probably celebrating because he’s rid of us for three days.”
Sirius laughed. “Probably. We’ll have to be extra boisterous upon getting out of here to make up for it.” Read and Blackburn looked over again; Sirius and James had ducked down again as they tried to stifle their laughter. “They probably think this place is haunted.”
“They can think whatever they want,” James said shortly, “as long as they don’t start waking people up before we’ve had our fun.”
“You’ve got an idea?” James nodded. “Brilliant. What is it?”
“I heard a rumour once,” James said innocently, “that they’ve got something of a deer problem in the arena.”
“Prongs, no,” Sirius hissed, checking for listeners. “Remember what Lily said?”
James scowled. “Of course I do. And do you remember how many times I’ve tried to explain to you the difference between a deer and a stag?”
“Yeah, but I never listen.”
“Prat,” James said fondly. “When I said deer, I meant deer.”
“I see,” Sirius said grinning as the pieces feel together. “Could those deer be persuaded to stampede through the trainee’s camp?”
Grey eyes met hazel and two young men grinned before they slid off of the roof and hurried away.
Five minutes later, both of them were red-faced and sweaty, but in front of them was quite a substantial collection of rocks. “Think it’ll be enough?”
“I could make an army out of this,” James said, helping Sirius organise the rocks into lines.
“Settle with a herd for now,” Sirius said.
“Will do. Can you keep watch?” Sirius nodded and retreated to give James room to work in. He could hear James muttering, very quickly, in Latin. The spell he was using was a slight variation on the one he used to become an Animagus. Obviously the subject was a rock and not James himself, and he was making deer not stags, but aside from that, it was very much the same. The deer would respond well to James’ thoughts, in the same way that James’ Animagus form responded to his human thoughts, but, since they were external manifestations, they would drain his energy in a way that his Animagus form wouldn’t.
“How are you doing, Jamie?” Sirius called.
James looked up from petting the muzzle of one of the does he’d created and moved on to the next rock. Sirius grinned and went back to scanning their surroundings. So far no movement and no more noise from the trainees’ camp. Hopefully they’re all still asleep.
“Done,” James called tiredly about ten minutes later. Sirius dug out a water bottle and a slice of bread. “Thanks,” James said, staggering forward. One of the does moved to support him. “Thank you,” James said. The doe snorted softly.
“Useful for rocks, aren’t they?” Sirius said. “And you lied.”
James followed his gaze to the young stag. “They needed a leader,” he said shrugging as he stuffed bread into his mouth.
“A leader who looks uncannily familiar,” Sirius said, though he could probably list ten or more differences between this stag and Prongs; the eyes were brown instead of hazel, the antlers were shorter and thicker than Prongs’, its coat was lighter and not as messy, it wasn’t as tall and it certainly didn’t look strong enough to deal with Moony... the list went on.
“He looks familiar because the incantation is familiar,” James said shrugging. Then he grinned. “His name’s Rocky.”
Sirius pointed to the doe next to James. “That’s Roxanne, right?”
“Yep, and this is Pebbles.”
Sirius laughed and shook his head before James could choose names for the other twenty. “We should send them to do what they were created for before you exhaust yourself.”
James surveyed his arm with a thoughtful nod. “Probably a good idea,” he said. He strode straight up to the stag – Rocky – and nodded once. “Off you go.” Rocky – Sirius sniggered internally – bleated once and trotted forward. The does followed and within seconds, they were all running at full pace. “Let’s get back to the roof,” James said, passing Sirius his water bottle. “I want to see this.”
By the time they got up, the plan was in motion; the trainees were waking up. The general reaction seemed to be bemusement and then panic once they realised they had limited time and space to get away. Some tried to Stun the deer but Sirius – since James was focusing on keeping them moving – was casting Shield Charms to protect them. The trainees fled with the herd on their heels. “They’ll be back,” Sirius said. “All their stuff is here.”
“Not for a while if I can help it,” James said, smiling, though his eyes were distant. “We should check the buildings.” James glanced at his arm again. “You take the left one, I’ll check the right.”
“The name ‘Marauder’ seems awfully appropriate, doesn’t it?”
“It does, though I doubt this is what Old Minnie had in mind when she accused us of marauding around,” James said with a laugh. Sirius headed left.
Sirius’ building had food and lots of it. He grabbed a few packets of crisps, a wheel of cheese, a pot of honey and a handful of teabags before sprinting out the door again. “Prongs?”
“Padfoot! Get in here!” James shouted, sounding slightly off. Sirius dashed through the door of James’ building. There was no food in this one, but there was an abundance of clothing, camping gear and healing kits. That wasn’t what had made James call him though. James had called because of the people. There were five of them, bound back to back in the middle of the room. Trainees. Shacklebolt and Louisson were straining against their bindings and the other three were unconscious. Sirius recognised Ackerly and Austen, but only just; both were covered in blood and Sirius would have bet everything he owned that their auras would be red. The third was an old friend of Sirius’ – a woman named Lyra Finch. But why would they bind them...”? “Are you going to help me?” James demanded, neatly severing the ropes with his wand. As soon as he could move, Louisson ran for the door. “You’re welcome!” James called after him.
“Git,” Sirius muttered. Kingsley had a broken leg but Sirius had no idea how to heal it; it had been broken by a spell. “Enervate,” he said, moving on to the unconscious prisoners.
Austen opened her eyes and pressed a hand to her head. “Ow,” she said, getting up.
“Are you all right?” Sirius asked.
“Yes, thank you.” She stumbled over to a shelf and found herself a first aid kit. She seemed to know what she was doing so Sirius left her to it. James was helping Lyra, so that left Sirius with Ackerly.
Ackerly sat up, grimacing and put a hand to the lump on his head. “Where’s my wand?”
Ackerly sighed. “No hard feelings, right?”
“Huh?” Ackerly smiled apologetically and punched Sirius in the stomach, hard. Sirius doubled over, gasping unable to stop Ackerly wrenching his wand out of his hand and punching his head too for good measuer. No hard feelings, my arse, he thought viciously as Ackerly ran for the door. Austen dropped her first aid kit and ran after him.
“Prongs,” Sirius gasped. “Wand.”
James’ head snapped up. “Expelliarmus!” he shouted. The spell knocked Ackerly off his feet and sent him flying out the door. The wand landed with a clatter next to James who didn’t bother to pick it up because Sirius was already crawling for it. “Are you all right, Pads?”
“I’ll have one hell of a bruise,” Sirius said hoarsely, clutching his throbbing head. “But I’m fine.” I hope. “Pale green.” It’s not really a lie. Pale green is close to yellow.
“Good,” James said, relieved.
Lyra sat up, disoriented. “Black?” she said, spying Sirius.
“How are you, Finch?” he asked. She, at least, Sirius trusted. As a former Hufflepuff, she was extremely fair.
“I’ve been better,” she said with a grimace. “And Potter’s here too.” She smiled. “Can’t say I’m surprised. The two of you- Oh! Kingsley!” she said. “How’s the leg?”
“Sore,” Kingsley said with a grimace. “How’s the heart?”
“I took two Stunners at once,” she told James and Sirius looking upset. “I froze up. It was stupid of me, but I couldn’t help it, but it got Dan k-killed.” She sighed and blinked away tears, her usual brusque tone returning. “It was terribly unfair of Hemsley and what’s-her-name to gang up on me like that but they’re just trying to pass I suppose, so I can’t really stay angry at them, especially when it’s my fault.”
“Hufflepuffs,” James mouthed, rolling his eyes. Sirius coughed to hide his laugh.
“But it’s fine, thank you, Kingsley. I’m still green.”
“Good to hear,” he said, grimacing as he tried to stand. Sirius could sympathise; he didn’t think his head would be able to deal with any vertical movement yet and his chest was still tight.
“Oh good!” Lyra said, pulling her wand out of her boot. “I hid it when I saw there were four of them. Do you think I’ll get points for keeping my wand safe?”
“Probably,” James said from the other side of the room; he was loading his rucksack with various things from the shelves.
“I don’t suppose there’s much chance of any of you helping me get back to my door, is there?” Kingsley asked.
“Where’s the break, Shacklebolt?” James asked, crouching down.
“I can fix it for you.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
James ignored him. “How was it broken?”
“A spell, courtesy of David Read.”
James’ eyes were far-away as he nodded. “I can fix that.” He made a face. “It’ll hurt,” he said, “but please sit still.” Kingsley didn’t look convinced but he nodded. Why he wasn’t in Gryffindor I’ll never know, Sirius though, watching the former Ravenclaw. “Tibium Emendo,” James said. There was a loud cracking noise. Kingsley’s dark skin had lightened by several shades. “Wait,” James said as he made to move. “Reparifors.” Kingsley paled even more and – in a move that didn’t really surprise Sirius – threw up. That’s why he wasn’t in Gryffindor. Lyra wrinkled her nose and Vanished the mess with her wand. “Better?” James asked.
Kingsley wiped his mouth. “Much, actually. Thank you.” Kingsley got to his feet and tested his leg. Lyra was ready to catch him if he fell but it wasn’t an issue. Privately, Sirius would have liked to see Lyra, who was fairly short, try to catch Kingsley who was about as tall as Sirius and as solid.
“No problem.” James came to sit next to Sirius. Up close, he looked pale. “Can you stand?” Sirius thought about it. He probably could if he had to, but not easily.
“No,” he said, because shaking his head would probably make him sick. James tapped his chest and then his temple with his wand. A wave of heat passed through Sirius’ entire body and settled under his ribcage and behind his eyes. It burned for a moment and then the feeling faded. Sirius stood carefully but he needn’t have worried. He felt fine and his aura was getting greener by the second. James got up too and went to rifle through a large trunk in the corner of the room Sirius joined him; Lyra and Kingsley were discussing the ‘death’ of their former ally. “Potions?” he asked, surprised when he reached James. James nodded, squinting at a bottle before he tossed it into his rucksack. “What was that?”
“Sleeping Draught,” James said, pocketing another, identical bottle. Sirius kept a few as well. Some – like the Essence of Euphoria or the Teething Tonic – were useless, but some – like the Pepper-up Potion and the tiny phial of Shrinking Solution – were good things to have, even if they never needed them. “Thank you. Finite Incantatem,” James murmured.
“Hmm?” Sirius said.
“The deer have done their part,” James said.
“Were you still holding those spells?” Sirius asked. James nodded, his eyes not quite focused. “You look exhausted.”
“A bit,” James said, glancing at his arm.
“What colour are you?” Sirius asked.
“Yellow,” James said, staring at the ground.
“You’re a shocking liar, Prongs.”
“More red or more yellow?”
“Red,” James mumbled.
“Damn.” Sirius passed him a water bottle, and three of the little mince pies. “Eat.”
“You can’t eat water,” James said cheekily.
Sirius rolled his eyes. “Jamie.”
James drank but passed the food back. “The trainees will be coming back soon,” he said. Lyra and Kingsley looked over at this. “We need to go.”
“Not until you eat,” Sirius said stubbornly.
“We don’t have time.”
Sirius shrugged. “I say we do.” He pulled bread out of his rucksack and drizzled honey over it. “Are you two hungry?”
“You have food!” Lyra squealed, flinging her arms around Sirius’ neck. Sirius freed himself from her grip and passed her the loaf of bread which she sliced with her wand and applied liberal amounts of honey to. “Do you have enough water for me to have some?” she asked.
“There’s a refilling charm on the bottle,” Sirius said, passing it over. “And we have two bottles.” Lyra had a few mouthfuls and passed the bottle to Kingsley.
“You’re my new best friend,” Lyra announced. “Sorry, Kingsley.”
Kingsley chuckled, accepting a mince pie from Sirius. James finally gave in and sat, eating everything Sirius passed him. He also dug his sack of apples out and passed it around; Lyra and Kingsley took one to eat and Kingsley pocketed one as well. “What colour are you now?” he asked James who was on his sixth pie.
“Dark yellow,” James said.
“Excellent.” Sirius packed the food away and he and James shrunk their rucksacks.
Lyra had wandered over to the small window that looked out over the fire pit. “Bother,” she said. “Some of them are back.”
James looked at Sirius, his expression an odd mix of irritation and gratitude. “How many?”
“Four, so far.”
“We could just stay here,” Kingsley said.
“They’ll come looking eventually,” James said absently. “And soon I’d imagine. They had supplies and prisoners in here and they’ll want to see if they still do.”
“Bother,” Lyra said again, ducking as – presumably – someone looked outside looked in her direction.
James tapped his foot on the ground once to get Sirius’ attention. Sirius looked up. James’ eyes flicked to Lyra and Kingsley who were both taking careful looks out the window and then back to Sirius. He raised his eyebrows. Sirius nodded slowly and then lifted his own eyebrows. James nodded too. “I have a plan,” Sirius said. James looked up interested. “We get out of here the same way we got in.”
“With deer?” James asked.
Sirius nodded. “You can turn us all into deer.”
“Remember what Lily said?”
“You’re brilliant at Transfiguration,” Sirius said, lowering his voice to a whisper “No one will doubt for a moment that you can turn yourself into something. You just won’t be able to turn back.”
“And we’ll go to Lily,” James said nodding.
“You’ll go to Lily. The rest of us are green. She can change you back or you can just transform – I doubt they’d be watching the rooms.”
“But I’m dark yellow. That’s a few hours.”
“You’ll need it to recover. You’ve got three people to transfigure and you need to do your own as well.”
“Point. You three’ll be stuck as deer though.”
“Stags, Prongs,” Sirius said, grinning.
“Whatever,” James said, falling into Sirius’ usual role.
“I don’t mind and I doubt the others will. And we can set up some way to win points tonight, since we’ll all be rested.”
“Fine,” James said. “Oi. Finch, Shacklebolt.”
The other two spun. “We have a way out,” Sirius said.
“But it’ll mean you have to stick with us until tonight,” James said.
“I can think of worse things,” Kingsley said dryly.
“You don’t know them very well do you, Kingsley?” Lyra said. “They were known as the terrible two.”
“Were not!” Sirius said.
“You were by my year,” Lyra said, laughing. “And with Lupin you were the troublesome three.”
“Figures with Remus we’d go from terrible to troublesome,” James said to no one in particular.
“He’s a good influence,” Lyra said, shrugging.
“How would you know?” Sirius asked. “He might be the evil one.”
“He’s not. I dated him, remember?”
“Oh, yeah!” Sirius said. “Fourth year, right?”
“I was sixth year, but yes, you were fourth year.”
“What’s the plan?” Kingsley interrupted.
“Right,” James said, holding up a hand to keep Sirius quiet. He’s in Head Boy mode, Sirius thought with a smirk. “To get in here, Sirius and I transfigured rocks into deer and had them chase the other trainees away. I can make us all deer and hopefully they’ll think we’re stragglers and let us pass without much trouble. We’ll head in a straight line to the east arena wall, go around the fence and back into the strip of forest where Sirius and I were last night. I’ll go to my Healer, get her to change me back and then I’ll come back for you three.”
“Could you Disillusion us instead?” Lyra asked.
“Doesn’t work,” Kingsley said. “You were unconscious by that point but they were talking about it; they set up wards around the buildings so no one can sneak in.”
“Must be some quality warding,” Sirius said dryly.
“Fine,” Lyra said. “I’d better be pretty though. And someone take my wand. I don’t want it to get damaged when you transfigure me.” Sirius sighed and tucked her wand into his pocket alongside his own.
“Are you all right to lead?” Sirius asked James.
“Of course.” James grinned. “I’ll be in my element. Are you ready, Finch?”
“No, but go ahead,” she said nervously. James walked in a circle around her tense form, chanting quietly. A moment later, a dark-coated, dainty doe stood in her place.
“Are you all right?” James asked in a calm, quiet voice. She inclined her head slowly. “Walk around a bit,” James said. “Get used to your new body.” She snorted softly and tottered out of Kingsley’s way. James repeated the process with Kingsley, who made a rather intimidating stag; he was taller than Prongs and more strongly built too. “Walk around,” James said. “And watch your antlers,” he added hastily as Kingsley accidentally knocked over shelf. “Padfoot?”
“Ready,” Sirius said. He wasn’t nervous at all, knowing James was more than capable of transfiguring him, though he was curious to see how being a stag compared to being a dog. Before he knew it, he was changing; he felt his neck stretching, and had to double over to compensate for the unfamiliar weight of antlers on his head. He felt his ears changing shape and his head narrowing and finally his hands fisted, becoming hooves and a layer of soft hair sprung up to cover his skin. “This is weird,” he tried to say, but it came out sounding like “Weihh!” instead.
Feels like I’m on stilts, he thought, taking a few careful steps. How Prongs manages to run and push Moony around is a mystery- Bugger! He danced backward but his antlers still caught on a coil of rope. He shook his head and nearly fell over. These damn things are heavy, he thought, trying to keep his head straight. Prongs trotted over with all the ease of experience and bleated once, softly. I don’t know what you’re saying, Sirius thought apologetically, but his body seemed to. He fell into place on James’ left while Kingsley took the right and Lyra moved in between them.
James nosed the door fully open and stepped out carefully, to make sure his antlers didn’t catch. Sirius followed and got through easily enough, but outside made his instincts scream; as a prey animal, his eyes were positioned so that he could see more. That hadn’t been a big deal inside because there wasn’t much to see, but out here. If he’d been Padfoot, he would have yelped or perhaps whimpered. As a stag, a funny bleating noise escaped him.
There were a few people moving around outside and Sirius automatically moved closer to Prongs. Kingsley and Lyra did the same. Noises and smells – particularly those he associated with humans - assailed him on all sides and instinct was telling him to run and get as far from there as possible. How James was still so calm was beyond his comprehension. Even Kingsley, who was usually unflappable, seemed uncomfortable and appeared to be struggling to reconcile his instincts with his human mind. And Lyra...
Lyra really was struggling. Her head was whipping back and forward as she tried to look at every sound and her hooves were shifting constantly. Sirius nudged Prongs’ flank and tilted his head in her direction. Prongs turned around just to see Lyra lose her head and bolt out into the masses of people. Prongs met Sirius’ eye and gestured in the opposite direction. Sirius was familiar with the movement from full moons, even if he was seeing it from a slightly different perspective.
It meant ‘get out of here’.
But Sirius wasn’t going to do that. Not here, when they only had each other. Prongs turned and ran after Lyra who was startling the trainees as she tried to get away. Sirius doubted she realised it, but if she continued on in that direction, she’d end up at the fence and with no way to get over, have to walk an extra few hundred yards, possibly past more humans.
“What is with these deer?!” one of the trainees demanded, diving out of Lyra’s way. Prongs managed to cut her off and trap her against the wall of a building. Even from a distance, Sirius could see that Lyra was shaking and making quiet crying noises, though she seemed to be calming down. More trainees were returning, appearing from the gaps between buildings – Sirius counted ten of them – and all of them stopped to stare at Prongs and Lyra, who were acting very strangely for deer, huddled together, his very obviously trying to shelter her from the rest of them until she stopped making sobbing noises.
“I’ll bet you they’re enchanted!” one of the female trainees exclaimed. “That’s why they attacked! It’s a test from the Aurors!”
Or it’s us trying to earn points, Sirius thought, though your guess is a little too close for my liking.
“Finite Incantatem!” the trainee cried.
Prongs ducked and the spell crashed into the wall above his antlers. He gave Lyra a nudge but she didn’t move. Get out of there, you two, Sirius thought edgily.
“Finite Incantatem!” another trainee shouted. His spell just missed Lyra’s foreleg. Sirius nudged Kingsley who stepped forward awkwardly to help Prongs with Lyra. Sirius charged at the trainees – though his instincts were trying to make him run in the opposite direction - the same way he’d seen Prongs charge Moony and once, Death Eaters. Someone put a Shield Charm up in time and Sirius bounced off and almost ended up in the firepit. Prongs charged from the other side, leaving Kingsley to try to coax Lyra away from the wall. Sirius ran at them again, only to have his hoof slip on the smooth stone ground. He toppled over and lost track of things for a few moments.
Sirius blinked. He was on the ground, his legs folded under him at odd angles. He wasn’t aware of any injuries which was partially luck on his behalf, but mostly because James was keeping the trainees distracted. It took Sirius precious time to figure out how to stand and even then it wasn’t graceful. Kingsley was having limited success with Lyra; they were moving, but slowly. Sirius charged again, only to swerve to avoid a Shield Charm and James danced out of the way of conjured ropes.
“What in Merlin’s name is going on here?” Should have known Gutnich would be part of this alliance, Sirius thought darkly.
“Deer, James,” said one of the trainees. “They’re enchanted.”
Gutnich looked surprised for a moment and then, quicker than Sirius could comprehend, his wand was out. “Finite Incantatem!” Kingsley ducked out off the way but the spell hit Lyra, whose form flickered. She landed on the ground as a human, looking rumpled.
“They’re people!” screamed one of the trainee women.
“Finch,” Gutnich said. Lyra stood, managing to look defiant, even though her face was lined with tears. “So that one’s Kingsley...?” Kingsley-stag freezing was enough of an answer. “And the other two... Ackerly and Austen?” Prongs ran back over toward Sirius, his hazel eyes worried. “Don’t let them get away!” Gutnich shouted, training his wand on James. “Finite Incantatem!” The spell missed but only just.
“Run!” Lyra shouted at Kingsley, giving his flank a smack. He jumped and ran after Prongs, falling into line beside Sirius. Running really isn’t that hard, Sirius thought, as long as you don’t over-think it. His sensitive ears could hear Lyra’s footsteps on the stony ground behind them, and behind her were the shouts of more spells and the sounds of pursuit.
“This is ridiculous!” one of the female trainees shouted. “Just kill them!”
“Meridiem Nox!” shouted another. Other voices were quick to repeat the incantation.
Damn. Damn, damn, damn, Sirius thought as they ran. Jets of light flew over his shoulders, making him jump each time but he didn’t dare look back. His only chance was to keep running, dodge every now and then and hope the trainees missed. They were getting away, though. Their legs were longer, except for Lyra but she was keeping up for now since she wasn’t trying to fight at the same time. They were going to get away...
One of the trainees stepped out from between the buildings, cutting Sirius, James, Kingsley and Lyra off. Sirius backed off quickly. “Meridiem Nox,” Sirius heard the man say calmly.
Sirius danced back, knowing he’d be too slow... the spell missed him. Thank Merlin! And then he heard a high-pitched “Oh!” of surprise and a quiet thump. No! No, no... He turned, already knowing what he’d see. Lyra was dead. Not really of course, she’d be fine once she was out of the arena, but she’d failed her exam. Sirius stared at her uncannily still body. She was glowing purple for everyone to see, the spell had drained the colour from her skin and her breathing was so quiet that even his sensitive ears could hardly hear it.
“Meridiem Nox,” said the same trainee who’d killed her.
This spell would have hit Sirius but Kingsley shoved him out of the way. They both tumbled to the ground in a mix of lanky legs and antlers but they were unhurt, and the impact got Sirius thinking straight again. Get out, he thought, there’s nothing we can do for her but if we stay, we’re dead. Kingsley leapt to his feet and charged the trainee, buying them time but Sirius could hear the rest of the trainees were closer and would be upon them at any moment.
He stood – quicker than last time, though he was still shaky – and made his way over to Prongs, who was nudging Lyra’s body. He was trembling. Sirius nudged his shoulder and Prongs started, twisting around. When he saw who it was, the anger in his eyes dimmed to be replaced with grief. Let’s go, Sirius tried to convey with a flick of his head. Prongs took one last look at Lyra and trotted past Sirius, gaining speed as he went. Sirius ran after him and Kingsley stopped harassing the trainee who had killed Lyra and followed.
They ran for twenty minutes straight, around the fence as James had said, and through the line of trees to the west side of the arena, where James’ door, number twenty-seven, was. Kingsley’s dark coat was glistening with sweat and Prongs’ breath was ragged and he was dragging his hooves. Sirius was exhausted too, though he felt guilty for complaining, even to himself; Kingsley had just lost a close friend and was still likely recovering from his broken leg and James had used huge amounts of magic today. And, though he hadn’t known Lyra very well – both Kingsley and Sirius knew her better than he did – Sirius was fairly sure he was taking her ‘death’ the hardest of them all.
As they slowed to a walk, Prongs tripped over his own unwilling hooves and fell ungracefully to the ground, where he stayed, his sides twitching. Come on, Jamie, we’re nearly there, Sirius thought, nudging the left side of his shoulder. Kingsley walked around to his left and together, the two of them managed to help him up. They stayed that way, walking awkwardly with James sandwiched between them until they reached the door. He’s probably red by now, Sirius thought, shooting him a sideways glance. Prongs used his antlers to push the door open and then reversed in. Sirius was just wondering how he was going to fit through when his form rippled and an exhausted looking James Potter took his place.
“Sleep,” he croaked as Lily hurried up behind to support him. “I’ll see you... soon, hopefully.” Sirius snorted once and he and Kingsley retreated back into the trees.